Women’s World Championship Preview: U.S.A., Brazil the Heavy Favorites
Photo credit: FIVB
This week is the onset of the biggest beach volleyball event not named the Olympic Games. All of the top talent will descend upon Hamburg, Germany, for World Championships, whose value has risen significantly with the cancellation of the Fort Lauderdale Major.
With just three major events on the calendar this season, the stock for major points – and, by extension, Olympic points — has been put on a premium. Here’s the women’s preview for Hamburg, with favorites, contenders, and, always popular amongst the fans, dark horses.
Heather Bansley, Brandie Wilkerson, Canada
Relative to the torrid streak the Canadians finished the 2018 – though, technically, the beginning of the 2019 season – on, it’s been slow goings for Bansley and Wilkerson, which only speaks to just how absurd their run was. They won in Vegas, Chetumal and San Jose in less than a month, and added a silver in a triple-point NORCECA just for kicks. Since, they’ve taken four top-10s, including a bronze in the Itapema four-star.
Taliqua Clancy, Mariafe Artacho, Australia
Sitting at a – surprise, surprise — Starbucks in Seattle, Emily Stockman mused that Taliqua Clancy may be the most underrated player in the world. She has a point: When discussing the top players and teams in the world, few begin in the Outback. But it’s from the Outback from where Clancy and Artacho hail, and they have put together an impressive 2019 campaign: five events, five top-10s, one bronze, one silver, one gold, in Warsaw. Few are as consistent as the Aussies, and its consistency that’s most important in an Olympic race that spans two years.
April Ross, Alix Klineman, U.S.A.
There may not be a single team in the world that has progressed as much as Ross and Klineman. It was just two years ago that Klineman was playing in – and occasionally losing – AVP qualifiers. Now she’s the most dominant blocker in the United States and is among that same discussion for most formidable in the world. Ross and Klineman have won six AVPs in the past two seasons, to go along with a NORCECA and three FIVBs. At this rate, it’s a wonder what this team will look like come Tokyo 2020.
Agatha, Duda, Brazil
Jeremy Casebeer couldn’t help but laugh a bit when talking about the players Americans consider young playing on the AVP. Basically anybody less than 25 years old is considered developing, still years away from their prime.
Then compare that to Duda, a 20-year-old model of precocity. Already, she has won Best Hitter in the world, Best Offensive Player, Most Outstanding, Rookie of the Year and Tour Champion. Currently one of the top players on the planet, Duda, alongside Agatha, amassed nearly $130,000 in winnings in 2018 and is well on her way to matching that total in 2019.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat, U.S.A.
What a wild ride this season has been for Walsh Jennings and Sweat. Beginning with a 17th in Las Vegas, the two have made a rapid ascent up the U.S.A. and world rankings, currently sitting No. 2 in the world in the race to Tokyo and fourth in America in terms of FIVB points.
They’re only getting better, too. In their past three tournaments, they’ve emerged from a country quota or qualifier to take fifth in Itapema, gold in Jinjiang and fourth in Ostrava.
Kelley Larsen, Emily Stockman, U.S.A.
These two are an example for how little time it takes to make a career breakthrough. In the span of three weeks, Larsen and Stockman suffered a heartbreaking loss in a country quota, sending them home from Ostrava before the tournament technically began – and then won a silver medal in Warsaw, all of which preceded their first win as a team on the AVP Tour in Seattle. They now belong in the conversation as hottest team in the world, peaking at the perfect moment heading into World Championships.
Ana Patricia Silva, Rebecca Cavalcanti, Brazil
Cavalcanti and Silva are finally, finally, finally out of qualifiers. It only took, oh, six top-10 finishes in a row, a run that included three golds and a silver. In the three events they’ve been out of the qualifier, they’ve won a bronze in Jinjiang, a silver in Ostrava and a fifth in Warsaw. No team is making podiums as consistently as these two, a major factor in the Brazilians currently leading the Olympic race.
They don’t yet have the long-term track record of some of the teams ahead of them on this list, but should they continue to perform – and all indicators show that they will – they’ll be among the favorites in every tournament they enter.
Maria Antonelli, Carolina Salgado, Brazil
It has been a relatively slow starting year for Maria and Carol. After finishing the 2018 season ranked No. 1 in the world, they have yet to make a podium this calendar year, falling just short in Warsaw after losing the bronze medal match to countrywomen Agatha and Duda. That said, they haven’t had any duds, either, finishing in the top 10 in every tournament, always contending.
Melissa Humana-Paredes, Sarah Pavan, Canada
Compared to many world tour teams, Humana-Paredes and Pavan have had a quiet year, in the sense that they haven’t been playing in every event over a million different time zones, popping from country to country. They have their points, and it seems they’re being wise with their travel and, by extension, their minds and bodies. In the four tournaments they’ve played thus far, they’ve been successful in three, winning silver in Itapema while making two quarterfinals in Xiamen and Warsaw. They’ve proven they can win at the highest level, taking gold in the Gstaad Major a year ago.
Barbara, Fernanda, Brazil
It’s strange, seeing Barbara and Fernanda back in the qualifiers. After winning the Fort Lauderdale Major in 2018 and following it up with a win in the colossal 48-team Huntington Beach tournament, it’s just weird having such a phenomenal team in qualifiers, as they were in Ostrava.
There is no qualifier for World Champs, however, and Barbara and Fernanda are as dangerous as any, regardless of results this season.
Sara Hughes, Summer Ross, U.S.A.
It seems odd that Hughes and Ross, once considered by a good percentage of American fans to be shoe-ins for Tokyo, have slid to dark horse status to win tournaments, but such is sports. This calendar year, they’ve made just one semifinal, losing bronze to Clancy and Artacho in Xiamen. Since, they’ve finished ninth three times and seventeenth in Warsaw. Now, it’s no call for emergency. These things happen. It wasn’t that long ago that Bansley and Wilkerson were taking 25ths and then shot to No. 1 in the world. Larsen and Stockman lost a country quota then responded with two career finishes. The same can happen with Hughes and Ross, it’s just a matter of when and where.
Nicole Laird, Becchara Palmer, Australia
Since winning the Sydney three-star on home soil, it’s been a brutal stretch for Palmer and Laird, who have fallen in three straight qualifiers. The Australians have all the potential in the world to make a run in Hamburg. It’s just a matter of taking the lessons from losses and applying them at the right time, in the right setting.
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